The Crusaders made a winning start to their Super Rugby Aotearoa title defence, holding off the Highlanders to triumph 26-13 on Friday. 

All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor scored the opening try of the 2021 season as Crusaders crossed four times in total at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, though they were made to work hard for victory.

After Taylor touched down in the 13th minute, Bryn Hall followed suit soon after as the reigning champions quickly eased into a 14-0 lead, Richie Mo'unga landing both conversion attempts. 

However, Highlanders hit back to close the gap to four at the break. Shannon Frizell got their first points with a try, while Connor Garden-Bachop finished off a flowing move just before half-time. 

Mitch Hunt was on target with a penalty in the 43rd minute to reduce the deficit to just a solitary point, yet the home team were unable to edge ahead as Crusaders shut them out for the remainder of the contest. 

Sevu Reece crucially crashed over to make it 19-13, while replacement hooker Brodie McAlister sealed victory from a lineout drive with six minutes remaining. 

Mo'unga slotted over his third conversion as Crusaders were able to celebrate a successful start to their campaign, even though they finished with 14 men following a late yellow card for Scott Barrett. 

Sunday's Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Crusaders has been cancelled following a change to coronavirus restrictions in Auckland.

The decision comes after the government in New Zealand confirmed Auckland will remain at stage three of the country's COVID-19 protocols for 12 days, while the rest of the nation is at stage two.

Consequently, the fixture – which was scheduled to be part of the final round of the competition at Eden Park – will be scored as a draw with both teams awarded two points.

The match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium will go ahead without fans in attendance, with the kick-off time brought forward by four hours to 3:05pm local time to meet rules on teams flying in and out of cities on the same day to limit public reaction.

Blues CEO Andrew Hore said: "10 weeks ago we never thought we'd even have a competition, let alone one with fans. 

"But instead we got nine weeks of incredible rugby, with three amazing home games and massive crowds. 

"While this news is disappointing, we need to take a step back and be grateful for what we got, what it meant to our players, our sponsors and, most importantly, to our fans."

Crusaders CEO Colin Mansbridge added: "Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa has been a fantastic display of unity and togetherness for all New Zealanders. 

"While it would have been fitting to finish our campaign in front of a full house at Eden Park, I think the rugby community can be incredibly proud of what we have collectively achieved over the last 10 weeks, and will understand that this decision has been made in the best interests of New Zealanders.

"On behalf of the Crusaders, I want to thank all of our fans for their incredible support throughout the 2020 season."

Chris Lendrum, New Zealand Rugby's general manager of professional Rugby and performance, said he understood the decision.

"It's fantastic that the Highlanders-Hurricanes game can go ahead as one final celebration of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa," he said.

"On the flipside, we're obviously disappointed that the Blues-Crusaders match is off, but we all understand and support the government's decision around this.

"Both teams have played outstanding rugby throughout the competition in front of packed crowds and, on behalf of New Zealand rugby, we want to thank all the fans for their support for not only those two teams, but all five of our Super teams. It's been incredible."

The Crusaders wrapped up the title last weekend after coming from behind to beat the Highlanders 32-22 at a sold-out Orangetheory Stadium. 

The Crusaders clinched the Super Rugby Aotearoa title after coming from behind to beat the Highlanders 32-22 on Sunday.

An expectant crowd at a sold-out Orangetheory Stadium appeared set for disappointment until George Bridge crossed twice in three second-half minutes to completely alter the complexion of the game.

Braydon Ennor, back from a foot injury, scored the sealer five minutes from the end to ensure the reigning champions can relax going into next weekend's final-round clash with the second-placed Blues.

The Highlanders had frustrated their hosts for much of the first hour after Jona Nareki added an intercept try to Shannon Frizell's shock second-minute opener.

Richie Mo'unga touched down between those tries and reduced the margin to four points at half-time with a second successful penalty attempt.

Bottom of the New Zealand conference, the Highlanders continued to spoil the party after the interval as Josh McKay denied Bryn Hall a certain try before the excellent Josh Ioane created a chance for Michael Collins to dive over.

But the tide turned just as the Crusaders were getting desperate, with 25-year-old back Bridge put through twice in quick succession.

All momentum shifted to the 10-time Super Rugby champions and they wrapped up top spot when Ennor crossed in the closing stages.

The Crusaders closed on the Super Rugby Aotearoa title with a 32-19 victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.

In bouncing back from their 34-32 loss to the Hurricanes last time out, the Crusaders moved seven points clear of the Blues in the table with just two games to go.

Early tries from Tom Sanders and Will Jordan set the 10-time Super Rugby champions on their way and though the boot of Damian McKenzie, who converted four penalties, kept the Chiefs in the hunt, Lachlan Boshier provided their only five-pointer.

Codie Taylor, Sevu Reece and Leicester Fainga'anuku also went over for the Crusaders as Sam Whitelock had extra cause for celebration on his 150th appearance for the franchise.

In contrast, Aaron Cruden's 100th outing for the Chiefs was one to forget as they fell to an eighth straight loss.

A superb Hurricanes display saw them end the Crusaders' 36-match unbeaten home run in a thrilling Super Rugby Aotearoa clash on Saturday.

Nineteen points from Jordie Barrett helped the visitors to a 34-32 triumph in Christchurch that keeps the competition well and truly alive in New Zealand.

The Crusaders had not lost at home since 2016 but found themselves 21-17 down at the break, despite Richie Mo'unga having put them 10-3 ahead early on.

Two Wes Goosen tries and pinpoint accuracy from the boot of Barrett gave the Hurricanes their half-time lead, but a Mo'unga penalty reduced the deficit to a point early in the second period.

Another Barrett penalty and a fine individual try from Peter Umaga-Jensen, combined with resolute defending, saw the Wellington outfit edge closer to a stunning victory over the 10-time Super Rugby champions.

Quinten Strange scrambled over the line but another Barrett penalty restored the seven-point lead in a dramatic finale in which Mo'unga set up Sevu Reece to cross the line and close the Crusaders to within two points.

However, the fly-half missed his conversion, allowing the Hurricanes to move second in the table thanks to a deserved victory that marked Ben Lam's 50th and final appearance for the side.

The Crusaders maintained their 100 per cent Super Rugby Aotearoa record with a 26-15 victory over the Blues on Saturday.

Both sides came into the game at Orangetheory Stadium with three wins out of three and it was the Blues who suffered a first defeat.

Defending champions the Crusaders were 7-6 down at half-time in Christchurch, Mark Telea opening the scoring with a finish in the corner after being picked out by Otere Black, who added the extras.

Two Richie Mo'unga penalties were all Scott Robertson's side could muster in the first half and Rieko Ioane's try extended the Blues' lead after a penalty apiece for both sides.

The Crusaders clicked into gear to take the upper hand, though, Mitchell Drummond crossing following a powerful run down the left from George Bridge.

Will Jordan added another try late on and livewire fly-half Mo'unga finished with 16 points from the tee as the Crusaders moved six points clear of their opponents at the top of the table.

Will Jordan scored another brace of tries as the Crusaders defeated the Highlanders 40-20 to make it three wins from three at the start of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.

The wing dotted down twice in last weekend's victory over the Chiefs and he repeated the feat as the Crusaders maintained their 100 per cent start.

After Jordan's first score, the Highlanders hit back with tries from Shannon Frizell and Ngane Punivai, and despite two Richie Mo'unga penalties, a Mitchell Hunt three-pointer meant the Crusaders trailed at the break.

However, another Hunt penalty was all they had to show for their second-half efforts as the Crusaders pulled away.

Tom Christie crossed twice, either side of a Sevu Reece try, and Jordan capped off the victory with a brilliant breakaway score as he collected his own chip and went over for his second try in the final minute.

The Crusaders made it back-to-back wins to start the Super Rugby Aotearoa season with an 18-13 victory over the Chiefs on Sunday.

Will Jordan scored tries either side of half-time for the Crusaders at a rainy Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

It marked the Crusaders' second win in as many games this season, while the Chiefs fell to a 0-3 record.

The wet conditions made for a tricky opening and Richie Mo'unga and Damian McKenzie traded penalties in the first 24 minutes.

Jordan went over seven minutes before half-time for the Crusaders, Sevu Reece taking a high kick on the wing before throwing a pass inside.

The Crusaders caught the Chiefs off guard early in the second half, a quick play seeing Jordan cross again to make it 15-3.

Mo'unga's penalty had the Crusaders up 18-3 with 20 minutes to go, but the Chiefs threatened a late comeback.

Sean Wainui crashed over before McKenzie converted and then kicked a penalty, although the Crusaders were largely untroubled in the closing stages.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett will miss the rest of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season as he requires surgery on a big toe injury.

The New Zealand lock was hurt playing in an internal game on June 13 and, following medical consultation, the decision was taken for Barrett to go under the knife.

Alex Ainley comes into the squad to cover for Barrett, while Codie Taylor takes over the armband.

A Crusaders statement read: "Crusaders Captain Scott Barrett sustained a significant injury to the structures supporting his big toe, while playing in the Crusaders internal game on Saturday 13 June.  

"After consultation with a foot specialist, it has been determined that Scott will miss the remainder of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to undergo surgery and allow sufficient time to recover. Exact return to play dates are uncertain at this stage. 

"Alex Ainley has joined the Crusaders squad as injury cover for the competition, and Codie Taylor will take over captaincy of the side for the remainder of the season."

Barrett signed a new deal to stay with New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders until 2023 last month.

The Crusaders blitzed the Hurricanes 39-25 to open their Super Rugby Aotearoa season in ruthless fashion.

Visitors the Crusaders ran in five tries to one to claim the bonus point at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Sunday.

Two late tries from Richie Mo'unga and replacement David Havili ensured Super Rugby champions the Crusaders left New Zealand's capital with the points.

The Hurricanes were right in contention with 15 minutes remaining against the Crusaders, the scores level at 25-apiece.

However, errors proved costly for the winless Hurricanes – who slumped to their second defeat from two games in the domestic Super Rugby competition following the coronavirus crisis.

Kobus van Wyk's mistake helped Mo'unga and the Crusaders break the deadlock 12 minutes from the end before Havili sealed the win.

Sevu Reece, Brayden Ennor and Jack Goodhue had scored first-half tries for the Crusaders, while Jackson Garden-Bachop's 20 points kept the Hurricanes in the mix.

Supporters will be free to attend Super Rugby Aotearoa matches in the opening round after New Zealand lifted coronavirus restrictions.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden confirmed the country will shift to Alert Level One from midnight on Monday, ending restrictions on mass gathering and social-distancing measures.

The country has gone 17 consecutive days without new COVID-19 cases, having imposed strict lockdown measures to counter the highly infectious virus.

Now, Super Rugby Aotearoa will be the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return en-masse, with no limit on crowd numbers at stadiums.

The domestic version of Super Rugby, which is taking place in lieu of the proper competition that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, will get underway when the Highlanders face the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.

The Blues, meanwhile, will host the Hurricanes at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday.

"It is a testament to all New Zealanders that we are in a position to lift restrictions on mass gatherings and it's a massive boost for Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa," New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson said.

"We're incredibly proud, and grateful, to be the first professional sports competition in the world to be in a position to have our teams play in front of their fans again.

"It's going to be a very special and unique competition and it's fitting that New Zealanders now have a chance to be part of it."

Arden told reporters on Monday: "Our goal was to come out the other side as quickly and as safely as we could. To a place where our borders continue to be our first line of defense but all current rules and restrictions on businesses and services are essentially lifted… Today, 75 days later, we are ready."

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said: "The world will be watching, and we will be ready to put on a show. Our players, coaches and staff have been working overtime to get Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa ready and to now be able to share the competition with our members and our fans will be a very special occasion."

Meanwhile, Blues counterpart Andrew Hore added: "This is a great boost for the franchise and the region as a whole. It's been a tough time for everyone over the past few months, so to be able to provide some rugby, some entertainment at a world class level and a day out for sports fans and families will be magic."

Golden-point tie-breakers and red-card replacements are among the innovations set to be used when Super Rugby Aotearoa kicks off.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced the rules will come into play for its domestic version of Super Rugby, which is taking place in lieu of the proper competition that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the changes is the introduction of a golden point, a format used in NRL where the first team to score  – either by try, drop goal or penalty – in the event of a draw in an additional 10-minute period wins the game.

Teams can also bring on a replacement for a player who receives a red card 20 minutes after they have been sent off. The punished player will still be subject to SANZAAR's existing judicial process and cannot return to the field.

NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said: "We want this competition to look and feel different. 

"We've had great support from our coaches, players and referees to make Super Rugby Aotearoa faster, safer and more exciting than ever before.

"Draws can often leave everyone feeling a little empty and after feedback from our coaches and players we have added the golden point rule. We've seen the excitement it can generate in other codes and we think adds a real edge.

"While players should, and still will be, punished for foul play, red cards can sometimes have too much of an effect on a match. 

"There are no winners when a player is red carded, but paying rugby fans, players and coaches want to see a fair contest. Replacing a player after 20 minutes strikes the right balance."

NZR also said referees will enforce rules at the breakdown more strictly in a bid to create more attacking rugby.

The Highlanders versus the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, will kick off Super Rugby Aotearoa on June 13.

All Blacks star and Crusaders captain Scott Barrett re-signed with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Super Rugby side until 2023.

Barrett's recommitment to NZR runs through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it was announced on Tuesday.

The 26-year-old lock, who is one of three brothers in the All Blacks squad alongside Beauden and Jordie Barrett, has made 36 international appearances since debuting for New Zealand in 2016.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said: "This is massive news for New Zealand Rugby and the All Blacks.

"Scott has already made an outstanding contribution to the team since making his debut back in 2016 and we know the best is yet to come. It's really exciting for the future having him re-signed."

Barrett and the Crusaders are preparing for the start of next month's Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders will begin a season of their own, starting June 13, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams will play each other home and away over 10 weeks, beginning with a clash between the Highlanders and Chiefs behind closed doors in Dunedin on June 13.

New Zealand's Super Rugby teams will begin a season of their own starting next month.

The Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders will play in Super Rugby Aotearoa, beginning on June 13, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand announced on Monday it was moving to alert level two on Thursday, clearing the way for Super Rugby to begin in the country.

The nation's five Super Rugby teams will play each other home and away over 10 weeks, beginning with a clash between the Highlanders and Chiefs behind closed doors in Dunedin on June 13, with the fixture released on Monday.

"The thought of five world-class Kiwi teams battling it out in 20 matches over 10 weeks should put a smile back on the faces of many people," New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson said in a statement.

"I know our players are excited and I'm sure rugby fans will be as well."

He added: "Medical and operational staff across NZR, the Players' Association and the clubs have been working together to ensure we have detailed plans in place to protect the health and safety of everyone involved."

Players, team management and officials will undergo daily symptom and temperature checks, to go with stringent hygiene and cleaning and contact-tracing practices.

New Zealand has seen more than 1,400 coronavirus cases, including 21 deaths.

A Super Rugby competition involving New Zealand's five teams could begin as early as next month, it was announced on Thursday.

The New Zealand Government cleared professional rugby to resume when the nation shifts to coronavirus alert level two, with a decision due on Monday.

Super Rugby Aotearoa will involve the country's five teams – the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders.

The five teams will play each other home and away behind closed doors over 10 weeks.

"For our fans, our players and everyone involved in Investec Super Rugby, we are thrilled that the sports minister has given the green light for professional sport to resume at level two," New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson said in a statement.

"Both netball and rugby have been working closely with government agencies on what training and playing at level two could look like, and we are incredibly grateful for their support."

Robinson added: "We're delighted for our fans that in a best-case scenario we will have top-quality rugby back on our screens next month.

"I know the players would prefer to be playing in front of our fans, but the health and safety of Kiwis must come first."

Players are set to be given three to four weeks to prepare before a season commences.

SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos welcomed the move, with Super Rugby having been suspended in March and facing major challenges due to travel restrictions around the world.

"We have known for some time that once the green light is given to recommence playing [in any of our territories] that a revised Super Rugby competition format would have to be implemented," he said.

"This will mean a strong domestic focus in each territory given the travel, border and government restrictions that we will have to adhere to.

"Given today's announcement by the New Zealand Government, SANZAAR will now in conjunction with NZR move to the implementation of the revised Super Rugby format that has been agreed upon by all SANZAAR partners and stakeholders.

"We will work with NZR around the possible start date that satisfies government requirements."

New Zealand has seen just 21 deaths from coronavirus, with more than 1,400 cases.

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